Extendable trailer designs

Electric travel trailer could increase range or mpg, improve whole experience

Airstream and its parent company Thor Industries surprised and excited RV enthusiasts and EV enthusiasts last month with an eStream electric travel trailer concept that could essentially be off the grid for days, increase range or mpg of the tow vehicle and potentially maneuver into a campsite or charging point.

Now the company has revealed more details about the project and the concept vehicle, which CEO Bob Wheeler stressed during a project Q&A last week is not just an exercise in sustainability. . “At the end of the day, if it doesn’t provide a better customer experience, it’s going to take a lot of effort for nothing,” said Wheeler, who added that part of the project is to overcome some of the traditional pain points of vehicles. electrical, such as charging and trip planning.

For that, don’t expect the product to be available this year, or even next. The CEO pointed out that the company is still in the early stages of this idea.

“It’s pretty safe to say that this exact concept trailer, this proof of concept, we’ll never see anything like it in the market,” he said. But it’s a way to gather dealer and customer feedback and determine the right feature sets and value point of view for such a model that he wants to build in the near future, he said. for follow-up.

Dethleffs e.Home Coco electric caravan

Dethleffs E.Home Caravan electric camping trailer prototype

Dethleffs E.Home Caravan electric camping trailer prototype

Dethleffs E.Home Caravan electric camping trailer prototype

Dethleffs E.Home Caravan electric camping trailer prototype

Airstream’s starting point, however, was not with a completely new chassis and technical package. It took over the chassis that its German subsidiary Dethleffs developed with ZF in 2018 and 2019 – the one that was demonstrated last year with an Audi E-Tron Sportback on a road in the Alps that involved high altitude and lots of climbs and descents. With essentially the same system as in the eStream, but with a lighter trailer, the E-Tron Sportback handled the 240-mile course despite its 218-mile EPA range rating.

Dethleffs E.Home Caravan electric camping trailer prototype

Dethleffs E.Home Caravan electric camping trailer prototype

What Airstream brings to the project, according to vice president of product development and engineering McKay Featherstone, is creating a platform around it. “Our job was really to integrate that into a complete system, not just dropping a house on the chassis, but making sure everything worked together towards a common goal,” he said, explaining that this includes aerodynamics, connectivity and some of the control units.

Featherstone said the company’s focus on sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint for its customers was one of the driving forces. But he also pointed out that the project dates back to the launch of the Tesla Model X.

Tesla Model X Towing

Tesla Model X Towing

“The idea of ​​towing with an electric vehicle is not new; our customers have been doing this for many, many years,” McKay said. “So really, from that moment, to today and talking to real customers…we understand their pain points, pain points and absolutely other integrations; we knew this technology had the potential to solve these problems for our customers.

Towing a trailer the size of the eStream today takes a lot of patience and planning. During a 7,700 mile voyage in 2019, friends of Green Car Reports saw a 45% to 60% range loss when towing a 3,800 pound travel trailer with a Tesla Model X. And in 2020, an Audi E-Tron towed a 4,000 pound trailer containing a GM EV1 over 504 miles in 35 degree weather, achieving less than 110 miles per charge.

In terms of tow vehicle compatibility, the goal is around a GVWR of 5,500 pounds, according to McKay. That would probably be more than the Tesla Model X or Audi E-Tron could handle, but well within what could be towed by a Rivian R1T or R1S, or a Ford F-150 Lightning.

Rivian R1T - hot weather towing test

Rivian R1T – hot weather towing test

Airstream wants customers to see the new model not only as more durable, but also more luxurious and practical. Today’s travel trailer owners face trade-offs because they can’t stay off the grid for long. This system works seamlessly, as if it were plugged in, with electricity and heating all the time.

Most interior materials have been chosen with durability in mind, and a see-through panel provides a view down to the drive unit and batteries. The trailer uses a heat pump, and there’s an induction cooktop, and without needing the usual propane tank, the front looks clean.

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

The eStream also has a narrower body than the typical Airstream, as well as a completely clean roof, with a bird’s eye view of 900 watts of solar cells that slowly charge the battery while traveling or camping.

The 22ft travel trailer should be able to fit into a standard vehicle charging point, allowing it and the tow vehicle to quickly charge simultaneously during road trips. It predicts fast charge times (up to 80%) in the range of 30-45 minutes, which closely matches most EVs today. And they want to design its Level 2 on-board charger so that it can deliver a full charge overnight from typical 30-amp camping outlets.

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

Although it is a concept, the idea is clearly in development. Airstream plans to take the trailer out on the road this year, with real-world testing, with more testing and refinements to follow.

Airstream is still sizing the battery and motors. And understanding the dynamics will be an essential part of the testing process. Dethleffs’ somewhat lighter trailer used two 90 kW (121 hp) electric motors, with the system providing 40 hp of continuous power from each.

The eStream has the potential to couple the Vector and help stabilize not only the trailer but also the tow vehicle with it, facilitating smooth and stable towing in rocking or crosswind conditions. It also has the potential to really help with traction, for example on muddy or snowy slopes.

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

One of the strengths of the concept is its ability to park remotely, via a smartphone application and by its own means. The backup and auto-driving system will primarily use an array of ultrasonic sensors, both top and bottom, in combination with camera systems.

Trip planning is also important in this technology showcase, to do all the work and ensure that the experience is indeed better. Airstream also plans to use Amazon Alexa for fast delivery of practical content related to new technology.

“Because we’ve redesigned the weight distribution, there’s also a chance to revamp the hitch experience,” Featherstone hinted,

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

Airstream eStream Electric Camping Trailer

The sStream Is it that fit into NHTSA’s existing regulatory framework, executives said, sounding somewhat surprised; so part of the project will be to make sure what’s left conforms to that.

And there really are a lot more innovations that could end up in a production model. Airstream is also studying the possibility of two-way charging and powering the house from its battery. He also needs to apply a bit more problem solving to the space below. With the two 40kWh packs taking up space on either side of the axle and engine block, Wheeler suggested they would need “new thinking about water and waste”.

Just as we’re starting to see for electric trucks, there will be new, innovative solutions to allow getting away from it all, familiar yet different. And for a classic form factor, the eStream is a creative start to look forward to.


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